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A Doctoral Student’s Experience of an International Collaboration: BERA 2017

In early September I was one of 996 participants who enjoyed the three day annual conference of the British Educational Research Association Conference (BERA) in Brighton. The programme was so large it required serious study in advance but enabled me to consider my own research in relation to that in other educational disciplines. There were 16 history sessions. I am a doctoral student and this was my second BERA conference. I write to highlight the opportunities it gave me as a postgraduate student, ones that I would not have expected. BERA, however, like ICHRE provides many opportunities.

History SIGI was co-convenor of a two panel symposium with Professor Linda Chisholm from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa on ‘Transnational perspectives on the history of missionary education’. The first panel dealt with post-colonial changes and continuities, while the second dealt with identity changes in the process of change and continuity beyond the colonial period. Our interest was in transnational linkages in the changes and continuities after the official ending of colonialism. An international collaboration, the symposium resulted from a discussion with Linda at the BERA 2016 History SIG social. Our research in Catholic and Lutheran missionary education crossing Italian-American and German-South African national boundaries respectively seemed a good focus for a panel at BERA 2017.

Talking with Professor Kim Fong Poon-McBrayer, from the Education University of Hong Kong, over drinks at the 2016 conference reception I learnt that in the course of her research on inclusion in Hong Kong she had become curious to follow up data which pointed to the legacy of missionary education in the development of inclusive schools in Hong Kong. We went on to invite Dr Brendan Carmody of UCL Institute of Education who has published in History of Education, on the educational work of Irish missionaries in Zambia and Dr Annalaura Turiano of Aix –Marseilles whose doctoral thesis looks at how Italian Salesians in Egypt altered the nature of their place in Egyptian education over time. Our SIG co-ordinator, Dr Heather Ellis, agreed to be the discussant.

Our symposium abstracts were among 959 submitted. 592 were accepted. We were given helpful feedback including a numerical score for each assessment criteria. I learnt from the process and benefitted from the experience of the other scholars in our group. As a retired teacher I was able to offer my administrative and organisational skills! More of us are now pursuing doctorates so this is something we can contribute to the scholarly community. At the end of our symposium Heather shared her observations including pointing out that missionary education has implications for today. These gave us a good focus for a productive de-brief over lunch the following day where we had a lively discussion around the categories of transnational, diasporic and colonial histories, concluding that these categories are relational.

I also benefitted from the bursaries open to presenters at the conference. I was awarded a BERA student bursary covering the cost of the conference and my travel and accommodation were covered by an ICHRE Richard Aldrich bursary.  Two other members of the group were awarded international collaboration bursaries. Our collaboration has also contributed to our writing. I have gained useful insights for my thesis. Kim and Annalaura are following up with articles and Linda’s book, Between Worlds: German Missionaries and the Transition from Mission to Bantu Education is due to be published in November 2017. BERA 2018 will be held at Northumbria University.

Maria Williams, PhD Student, UCL Institute of Education